It’s a question Canadians have been grappling with for years: which is better, daily routines that focus on the present, or a steady stream of routine-driven, repetitive tasks?
The Canadian Psychological Association’s “Ask the Expert” program aims to answer the question, with two separate, easy-to-understand videos.
First, the expert, psychologist John Hartigan, is asked to review a number of research studies.
“What are the best ways to create and maintain the right kind of mental and emotional state?”
“What are some of the best habits that can help?”
The expert is also asked to answer whether they’re the best way to manage your mind.
“Is there a single way to do it that you know works?” he asks.
“If you’re just doing what your parents did and you’re doing it in your head, what you’re thinking, how your body is responding to the activity, you’re not doing it right,” says Dr. Laura Baeck, a psychology professor at the University of Manitoba.
It’s a lot like a quiz: what you know is hard, what is a good way to answer is also hard.
“If you can get the answer to both of those questions right, you have a pretty good idea of the answer,” she says.
But in a follow-up question, the psychologist asks the same question again.
“So, if you can answer both questions, what’s the best thing to do to improve your mental and physical health?” he says.
“The best way, in my opinion, to manage the mental and the physical is to keep your mind open and engaged and to try and do things that help you stay connected to the present moment and the present day,” says Baeek.
And, yes, this is where the attention economy comes in.
“The attention economy is a kind of behavioral adaptation,” she explains.
“It is the way that we tend to focus on a task and focus on it and to keep it focused.
So, if we can engage our attention in a way that makes it easier for us to do that, that’s what you want.”
For some, this has been the case for decades, but for others, the emphasis on the mind-body connection has made it harder to find the time to just sit and do nothing.
“I don’t know if it’s the stress of a new job or the stress from having kids or the social anxiety of not having time to sit in a chair,” says psychologist and former CBC Radio host Carol Kay.
So, Kay, Bae, and others are working on new ways to encourage people to pay attention.
In addition to the video, they’re also looking into ways to get people to “mindfully engage” with their bodies and minds.
For Baeack, this includes doing things like “exercising your body” and “exercise your mind.”
For Hartigan and Baeke, the key is to make a habit of it.
And, they say, that means working out.